Sunday, December 31, 2017

December 31 Book Report: When the Emperor Was Divine

I remember the moment when I first learned about the Holocaust.  I was nine years old and in the 4th grade when I picked up The Diary of Anne Frank to read.  At the end of the story, my copy of the book had an explanation of the Holocaust and what had happened to Anne.  Until then, I had not known about the Holocaust.  I finished that book sitting on the front steps of our house and I can still recall the wave of nausea that overwhelmed me when I learned about the Holocaust that first time.

In the 5th grade, at the age of ten, I learned about slavery.  Again, it was reading that informed me.  I was reading through the biography section at Weldon Elementary School when I came upon the autobiography of George Washington Carver.  That story explained that Carver had been born into slavery.  I knew what the word meant but it was with the help of the school librarian, Mrs. Maldonado, that I came to actually understand slavery in the United States.  I was profoundly disappointed in my country.

When I was fifteen I was in a debate contest in the 10th grade when I first learned about South Africa and its apartheid policies.  I can still see that room and remember my horror that it was 1983, that such policies were still accepted in the world, and that I had not known of this.

These memories came to mind as I read Julie Otsuka’s story of Japanese-American internment in the United States during World War II.  I don’t remember when I first learned what happened to the Japanese during the war.  That lack of a moment of recognition seems embarrassing now, but as Otsuka’s novel makes clear, the story of Japanese internment during World War II has long been a tale of shamed silence.  

Otsuka’s novel is a narrative story of a Japanese family from Berkeley, California, rounded up at the outset of the war.  The family members go un-named throughout the novel and we know them just as the mother, the daughter, the son, and the father.  They live in different camps during the period of internment, the father arrested first and then detained in a series of camps along the border with Mexico.  The mother and her children are rounded up in 1942 and are eventually sent to the Utah dessert for just over three years.  The family remains separated for the duration of the war.

The story is told from various points of view: the mother, the tween daughter, the young son.  Each reflects on the fear and confusion of the time period.  The mother has a simmering anger that never really emerges.  The daughter’s defiance is internalized; the son’s reflections are painful and sad.  Each is silent in their own way, dissenting inside and perhaps seemingly never with one another, aware at all times that their loyalty as “Americans” is suspect.  They are together but profoundly lonely in their fear and confusion.  Aware at every juncture of how much they have already lost, they are always aware of how much more they stand to lose.  

The story of this family is lonely and isolated.  Over 110,000 Japanese-Americas were interned during the war and that’s a lot of lonely people together., bound by their identity and their fear but alone nonetheless.  For most of the novel, the characters show an angry passivity, fear restricting their response to the circumstances in which they have been placed.  Only in the final chapter does the reader experience the anger that interned Japanese must have felt.  But here as well the anger is alone, with no place to go.

The novel is a powerful read, one that will linger long after I turned the last page.  In a year when so much of my nation disappointed me, this story was a timely reminder that we’ve never been perfect or, perhaps, even great.  

Friday, December 29, 2017

Republic of Falsehoods

By now, the world has read the NYT’s unexpected “get” with the president.  The interview revealed Donald Trump to be self-absorbed and ignorant.  This isn’t breaking news, it’s the standard operating mode of our president.  What has emerged is a Twitter discussion of the journalist’s approach to the interview, which seemed to be like an open-mic interview, with few challenges to the president’s incoherent claims.

While I appreciate Maggie Haberman’s argument that a reporter like Michael Schmidt, who gets an unexpected interview with the president, should just let the commentary flow so that Trump’s incoherence is on full display, I respectfully disagree with her point of view.

We are no longer in the realm of the regular and typical and our president’s ego has seemingly taken control of  the republic.  Trump challenges news coverage he dislikes, accusing it of being “false news” even as he regularly tells lies and falsehoods with impunity.  When responsible journalists fail to challenge the president, for example asking what Trump means by “big bills” and asking specifics about his knowledge of health care or tax policy, the nation loses.  When Trump asserts that he knows more “about the big bills….than any president that’s ever been in office” make him demonstrate the truth of that claim.  Journalists must push back against a president who claims that Democrats refused to work on a bipartisan basis by pointing out the tax bill was negotiated behind closed doors, outside regular procedures, without hearings and markup, in order to exclude Democrats and the prospect of bipartisanship.  Make the president explain that assertion.  When he mentions his infrastructure bill, ask him for specifics.  Don’t let Trump’s lies and braggadocio be the regular order.  

When Donald Trump gets a pass from the responsible media, we all lose.  This isn’t about the occasional political victory or loss, it’s about the longterm vitality and health of our republic.  We cannot  be a nation where truth is in the eye of the beholder.  

Thursday, December 28, 2017

What I Learned in 2017

One of the blogs that I regularly read, Cup of Jo, had a post entitled  “What I learned in 2017” and reading it got me thinking about what I learned in this past year.  I’m not always able to separate the personal from the political and 2017 has often been difficult and disheartening.   So I’m not sad to see the backside of 2017, though I did learn some things:

1.  That I don’t need to try and understand Trump voters…..they aren’t complicated.  Though I believe they have a right to an opinion and to participate in our political system, I do not believe them to be people of good will.  In their ignorance, they supported a racist, sexist, self-absorbed, stupid man and we are all reaping the consequences of the danger he presents to the world, to our environment, and to our republic.

2.  That a tidy house is lovely.  In June, when the downstairs floors were refinished, the house had to be emptied out for the job.  As a result, everything downstairs got sorted and cleaned out.  When we moved back in, there was markedly less junk downstairs.  It’s been nice and I’ve kept up with it, which is even better.

3.  That getting ready to send my only child to college is exhilarating and terrifying ; that I will cry when he goes but that I’ve raised a good boy, one who is kind and hard-working; loyal and true.  Preparing for myself and my son to launch out of the nest is my 2018 challenge.

Any thought I had that Trump might be less than a disaster ended abruptly with his inaugural speech, which offered his dystopian view of our nation and scared the hell out of me.  I often say that I live in hope but 2017 has sometimes made it hard to find that hope.  Doug Jones' Alabama victory was a bright and sustaining moment and I’m working for a 2018 that features many, many more Alabama moments.  

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry, Merry Christmas!

Christmas morning with a 17 year old is not the magic of childhood, but it’s still sweet.  Santa sets out his gifts at the foot of the stairs and word on the street is that the hottest gift of 2017 is a laundry basket.

We had a leisurely morning as we opened our presents.

There was delicious supper.

And plenty of time to enjoy pie and play games.

That’s happy!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve, come twilight, I light the paper luminaries in the front yard.  

By the time the sun sets, the luminaries are glowing. They are lit all over town on Christmas Eve, a tradition that makes me smile.

Then we enjoy some appetizers and fizzy drinks while we play some games.  There is warmth, laughter, and happiness.  I am reminded of all the blessings that I enjoy and I am grateful for them all.

These long-standing traditions remind me of Christmases past; they make the current season lovely and bright.

That’s happy!

A Jersey Christmas Eve

Tradition in New Jersey is that during the Christmas season Santa rides around town accompanied by the local fire trucks and the wailing of sirens.  In my town, that happens on Christmas Eve.  It’s not restful but it is exciting.  Here at Sassafras House, we’re long past the anticipatory excitement of waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve.  As we hear the fire trucks roll through town, we make jokes about not having a fire at this hour. But my neighbor’s two year old M nearly lost his mind waiting for Santa to roll down the street and I enjoyed some memories as I watched.  

I remembered the year JT and I drove home from singing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve and the local radio station reported that Santa had already been seen in New Jersey.  From the back seat, the tension oozed forward as JT feared Santa would skip our house because he wasn’t asleep.  I remembered the year one of our Christmas Eve luminaries caught fire in the front yard.  I remembered all the years I snuck around after JT was tucked into bed, constructing elaborate Playmobil villages for Santa to leave on Christmas Eve.  I remembered the joy of tracking Santa's journey with Norad, as our excitement built.  I remembered the blessings of a boy who believed in Santa long after it was reasonable to do so.

Then M from across the street, impatient and excited for Santa to roll down the street, punched the blow up snowman in his yard.  T and I laughed.  

Christmas isn’t always perfect and sirens and horns are hardly peaceful, but I am blessed to have a warm home, a soft bed, and family I love.  That’s worthy of a celebration.  

Happy Christmas Eve, y'all.  May you have laughter and good memories to enjoy!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Restful Season

The start of Winter Break signals two weeks of time off for me.  I am ready for the rest and eager for some unscheduled time.  Yesterday afternoon was the first day of our Winter Break.  We don’t return to school until January 8.  Gift-shopping is compete.  Yesterday, I picked up the holiday ham and the other ingredients for our Christmas meals, saving only Costco for today.  

As the last of the sunlight faded away on Friday, T tucked under a blanket for a nap on the sofa.  In the quiet, I wrapped packages and happily considered the days ahead.  The coming two weeks will bring me hours of time to read and write, the chance for an afternoon nap, and plenty of unscheduled time.  During the school year, I work seven days a week.  December is always extra busy.  The break is a most-welcome development.  It’s a chance to rest, to reflect on my many blessings, and to enjoy the company of a boy who is closer and closer to leaving my nest.  The time off will remind me to rest and refresh; it will set me up for the remainder of the school year.  That’s a blessing indeed.  

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Cookie Day

Baking cookies for my students is one of the holiday traditions I most enjoy.  I bake in advance of the annual day and freeze the fresh-baked cookies until I have have enough to supply all of the students in my classes with a treat.  This year, the whole of the 7th grade received homemade treats.  Frosted sugar cookies are the most labor intensive of the the lot; they are also the most popular cookie I make.  This year, the students ate acres of Christmas trees,

In addition to the frosted sugar cookies, there were chocolate peppermint cookies, molasses spice cookies, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and Tollhouse bars.  I share the treats with my students along with a sincere thank you to them for making my schooldays happy.  

I thank them for learning with me, for making me laugh, and reminding me that our future is in very good hands.  Then I get the pleasure of watching kids eat homemade cookies.  That’s happy!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Season Opener

One of the nicest things about our school is that many of JT’s friends began there when they were little boys.  JT and his fellow wrestler E became friends when they were four years old.  They’ve grown up together and their friendship is something they both value.  There’s something sweet about watching boys who once played in the sandbox together as they are now captains of their wrestling team.  It’s a sport that they both love. Their final wrestling season began on Monday and, as I often do, I sat in the bleachers with E’s mom, TS, who, like me, sometimes wonders how it was she became the mama of a wrestler.  

She and I are both moms of singletons, both women who waited to have children and now are thinking about all the changes that are coming to our world as we launch these boys into the world.  We talked before the match began and discovered that we are both treating this Senior year a year to live in the moment; to enjoy every minute of time these boys of ours are still living at home.

Then the wrestling began and we watched one another’s boys wrest out a victory after 6 long minutes on the mat.  They were hard-fought wins and we cheered the whole of the time.  It was exhausting to watch; it seemed like the seconds were ticking by extra slowly.  When it was over, TS looked at me and said, “maybe living in the moment is overrated.”

I laughed and in that second agreed. But I will be at every wrestling match that will have me, cheering like a lunatic and shouting things like, “hold him down” and “stuff the head!” as if I am bloodthirsty.  Because it’s wrestling and that’s what we do.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Snow Prints

On Friday evening, we had a few hours of snow, enough to leave two inches.  On Saturday morning, I set out to shovel the driveway so that I could run errands and I saw animal prints in the snow.

They looked so lovely in the morning quiet and I could imagine a wild animal seeking a welcoming shelter in my backyard.  T reminds me that it’s very likely one of the possums who snack on my garden; I think that’s quite likely.  But on Saturday I was charmed.  The stillness and quiet after snow has fallen is one of the loveliest gifts of the Winter season and even when there is shoveling to be done, I enjoy those moments after the storm.  

Winter’s cold is a welcome reminder to stop and rest.  The cold ensures that I’ll tuck under a cozy blanket with a steaming mug of tea, a good book, and the chance to renew.  That’s happy!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Pretty Packages

Christmas planning has headed into overdrive at Sassafras House.  Last night, I made two batches of cookies for my annual cookie day.  Every day, I find the time to wrap a package or two.  

That’s happy!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Package Central

I love wrapping presents and making crafts and I keep a dresser with craft and wrapping supplies in my dining room.  T named it my Etsy cabinet and the name stuck.  Come Christmas time even the inestimable Etsy cabinet can’t keep up with my gift wrapping ambitions.  Christmas wrapping requires more paper, extra ribbons, and an entire basket of gift tags.

The supplies will stay here through Christmas Eve, making it easier for me to wrap packages whenever the mood strikes.  That’s happy!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Shoutout to Nebraska

Fifteen years ago this year, I moved from rural Nebraska to suburban New Jersey.      It was a welcome change, though I learned some things in those years on the plains.  For the 8 years that I lived in Nebraska, I especially learned to plan ahead.  I lived in a town of 5,000 and it had few retail options, none of them very good.  The nearest Target and decent grocery store were one stoplight and 35 miles away.  Items could be had in town, but typically at prices 20% more than I wished to pay.  I quickly learned to plan ahead and keep a pantry full of the staple items I wanted to have on hand.  

Fifteen years later, the habit has never left me and I was grateful on Monday night.  That evening, I came home and while supper was cooking I made an assortment of homemade gifts that I will give away during the holidays.  I mixed up a batch of salsa and filled Mason jars; I gave a stir to the homemade Irish cream I set up on Sunday; and I set the mixer to work to make the cheese mixture I will turn into homemade cheese balls.  Once whipped together, the ingredients are scooped into a sheet of plastic wrap and then shaped into a ball.  I got ready for this last step only to realize that I was out of plastic wrap.  Hopeful, I headed to my basement pantry.  There I found a brand new package of plastic wrap.  Hallelujah! I brought my plastic wrap upstairs, wrapped the cheese balls, and offered a thank you to those years I spent in Nebraska, where planning ahead was second nature.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

When Moore is Less

Much to my horror, I believe that Roy Moore is going to win today’s election for an Alabama Senate seat.  It’s shameful and horrifying, disgraceful to the women whom he assaulted, and evidence that white supremacy,  mysogyny are routinely embraced in some corners of our nation.

I’ll wait until after the Moore victory to explain what went down.  Today, I’m going to focus my writing on how the Senate GOP will handle the Moore win.  I have a prediction.

I think that before he’s sworn in, Mitch McConnell will refer Moore to the Senate ethics committee who will ultimately rule that he’s not fit to serve.  The Senate will decline to swear Moore into the seat and instead ask the governor of Alabama, a Republican, to appoint a Senator to serve until an election can be held.

In this way, the GOP hopes to dodge the stain of Roy Moore while remaining damned sure that they hold the seat for their party when major votes on policy need to happen.  Keeping the seat red is essential to advancing the Republican agenda, especially the Tax Bill currently in conference committee.  That’s why Trump supported Moore; that’s why no other Republican leader with actual power had the courage to insist that Moore step down.  McConnell, Graham, and McCain declined to support Moore but that is not the same thing as working full-steam against him.  These leaders took a cowardly pass because they want to have power far more than they want anything else.

We’re going to mark this election as another moment when the Republican party demonstrated that their quest for power is far more important to them than their quest to lead; that the interests of the GOP comes before the nation interest.  This is a dangerous  thing for a political party and bad for the nation.  This is Donald Trump’s America.

Update, 12/12/17, 11:30 pm: Doug Jones won! Thanks to strong African-American voter turnout, Moore was defeated. As the returns were confirmed last night, I felt a powerful wave of emotion flow over me. This nation needed some good political news; I needed some good political news.  Thank you, Alabama!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Snow Day

Yesterday it snowed.  T and I baked treats for her work, caught up on Netflix, and otherwise enjoyed the quiet.  We’ve lots to show for our efforts and the relaxation was much needed.  The first snow of the season is a treat that I never grow tired of enjoying.  That’s happy!

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Feathering My Nest

I love bedding…..cozy quilts, soft sheets, warm down comforters and pretty duvets make my heart sing.  I like variety in my bedding choices and I add or subtract options as the weather outside demands.  In the past week, the weather has turned colder, especially at night, and the forecast calls for nighttime temperatures in the teens by the middle of next week.

Time for the down comforter.

The last few nights have found me tucked under my down comforter and duvet, warm and cozy in my nest.  I love the feel of the heavy covers and the way the bed gradually warms thanks to the combination of down and body warmth.  I’ve slept deeply, snug against the cold, and well-rested come the morning.  

Thanks to some recent well-done NPR stories on homelessness in America, I’m aware that I am privileged enough to take the blessing of comfortable cozy bed for granted.  Each night as I slip into my nest, I am grateful that I have this safe and snug bed and home to enjoy.  

Friday, December 08, 2017

Food Friday: Spinach Soup

Spinach soup is one of the most delicious soups I make.  It comes together quickly on a school night and is amazingly good.  It can be served as is, or made fancier, with grilled shrimp or chicken; some roasted red pepper, or chopped fresh tomatoes.  As soon as the weather grows cold, this recipe comes to the top of my must-have list.  I made this bowl last night and I’m looking forward to enjoying the leftovers.  The recipe comes from Pioneer Woman, way back in 2010.  I don't use whole milk and it comes out just fine.  You should make it at once!

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Pretty Packages

I love wrapping presents and December is the present season.  I especially enjoy wrapping little presents with tiny treats inside.

There are many more packages to be wrapped before the month is over.  That’s happy!

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Front Porch in December

The pleasure I had when I first put up outdoor Christmas lights on the porch led me to decorate the porch around the year.  Why confine the pleasure to December, I thought?  So it was that December became the inspiration for a different front porch each month, a task that I very much enjoy.  I still take extra care for Christmas.  Greenery and lights are the theme of the month; two of my very favorite things about December’s holidays. Overhead, there are mercury-globed Edison lights, which are a hard to make a picture of, but have a lovely glow come twilight.  The flower basket hooks each have a wreath.  The flag is welcoming.

On the table is a plaid tablecloth that T gave me last year, a wooden bin full of greenery and twinkling lights, a wooden snowman, and red tin house with a candle inside.

The front door wreath is splendid and smells even better than it looks, so that we come home to a lovely evergreen-scented door.

No corner of the porch is free from my attentions.

I love holiday traditions like this; they are my favorite part of the Christmas because they provide a reminder to stop and live in the moment.  That’s happy!

Monday, December 04, 2017

Blowout Sale

I already posted this photo to Instagram, but seriously, it is well-worth another round here because every single time I see the picture, I burst into laughter.  You have to wonder what the marketing team was thinking.

Joke’s on me if they sell out.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

December Mornings

I am an early riser.  Mornings are a time for me to check my e-mail and get some work done.  Whether that’s an e-mail that needs writing or an assortment of quizzes that need grading, I find that my day goes a little more smoothly if I’ve had some quiet to get started.  In the evening before I climb into bed, I set things up for my morning, with a coffee mug and a jug for cream set on a cheerful cloth napkin by the autostart coffee pot, which will finish brewing my coffee by the time I come downstairs in the morning.

In December, I move a few holiday coffee mugs to the front of the cupboard so that my morning has a little holiday cheer.  I’ve been setting out my coffee mug and creamer for at least 20 years now; the December tradition is just about 10 years old.  It’s an easy way for me to enjoy the dark December mornings, a reminder that the simple little pleasures are often the most pleasing.  That’s happy!  

Friday, December 01, 2017

Old Man Tree: December 1

As we approach the Winter Solstice, Old Man Tree is stately, with stark bare limbs, ready for the cold season.  As our daily share of sunlight fades, during the weekdays I most often see my tree in the dim light of sunrise or the darkness of twilight or beyond.  These pictures were made just after sunrise.

I’ve yet to finish all of my Fall chores; there is some leaf collection to be completed and a few more tomato cages to gather up.  The garden catalogs are pouring in and I’ve set them aside for the first snow storm of the season, when I will curl up under a blanket with a warm mug of tea and daydream of the flowers and blooms that will arrive in the Spring.  

The garden that is and the garden that will be both grow under the watchful eye of the tall limbs of Old Man Tree.  Though he’s not in the physical center of the yard, he is the spiritual center.  As I drive home each day, I can see him tall above my house before home itself comes into view.  When we look out the windows, he’s there.  He’s solid and true, Mother Nature’s witness to our lives and the world around us.